Scott Fowler

Was the Torrey Smith trade worth the risk for Carolina Panthers?

Wide receiver Torrey Smith (82) stretched to make this catch in the most recent Super Bowl for Philadelphia. The Panthers have traded for Smith and will send cornerback Daryl Worley to Philadelphia for his rights. Smith is a “speed” receiver who is likely to be used in much the same way as the Panthers used to employ Ted Ginn.
Wide receiver Torrey Smith (82) stretched to make this catch in the most recent Super Bowl for Philadelphia. The Panthers have traded for Smith and will send cornerback Daryl Worley to Philadelphia for his rights. Smith is a “speed” receiver who is likely to be used in much the same way as the Panthers used to employ Ted Ginn. TNS

The Carolina Panthers spent much of 2017 trying unsuccessfully to replace the speed of Ted Ginn Jr.

Now they are trying again – this time by giving more money per year to the guy they are trying to get to replace Ginn than it would have cost to keep Ginn in the first place. And they have traded away one of their starting cornerbacks to boot.

So the logic seems somewhat convoluted, and the price is pretty darn high. But the deal still makes sense, assuming Torrey Smith does what he should.

Torrey Smith is a veteran big-play threat at wide receiver who is old enough to have been picked in the same draft as Cam Newton, in 2011. Like Curtis Samuel or Damiere Byrd, Smith can really fly. What he has shown that they haven’t, however, is the ability to stay on the field.

Smith, 29, has missed only 12 games in his seven NFL seasons. Byrd and Samuel – who both had repeated auditions for the “speed guy” role in Carolina’s offense in 2017 and will again have lots of chances to play in 2018 – each missed roughly half of the 2017 season due to various injuries.

As for the loss of cornerback Daryl Worley in this high-profile trade with Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, I don’t mind that. Smith is the sort of guy Worley struggles to guard one-on-one. In reality, Worley struggled to guard a lot of guys one-on-one. And the Panthers have to favor offense over defense to a degree in this offseason if they are really going to surround Cam Newton with more weapons, as they have repeatedly said they would do.

Paying Ginn would have been simpler

I ultimately don’t think Worley will start for the Eagles, and I’m not at all sure he would have started for Carolina in 2018, either. He has never been as consistent of a player as James Bradberry – the Panthers drafted Bradberry and Worley together in 2016 in the second and third rounds, respectively.

ginn-scott
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., a former Carolina Panther, was a big part of the reason why the Saints went 3-0 against Carolina last season. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The easiest way to have done this, of course, would have been just to have paid Ginn in the first place a year ago.

Smith will make $5 million for each of the next two seasons. Ginn signed a three-year, $11-million deal with New Orleans before the 2017 season because the Panthers wouldn’t pay him that much, so he is averaging about $3.67 million per year. Then Ginn proceeded to burn the Panthers repeatedly in 2017 as the Saints handed Carolina three of their six losses (including the playoffs, when Ginn hauled in an 80-yard touchdown pass against his old team).

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Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) is very familiar with the Carolina Panthers. Now a free agent, Sherman can join any team he wants – the Panthers should at least explore the option. Chuck Burton AP

The Ginn decision was made by former general manager Dave Gettleman, of course, while Marty Hurney is responsible for this Smith-Worley trade. This one is a risk worth taking. Yes, Smith drops some balls, but Ginn did that, too. The key thing is that Smith gets open enough that he gets the ball thrown to him in the first place. He’s never going to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but he will relieve some pressure on Newton.

The Richard Sherman sweepstakes

Speaking of risks worth taking, I wish the Panthers had explored more thoroughly the idea of signing cornerback Richard Sherman, too. Seattle made Sherman a salary-cap casualty this past week. The star corner is about to turn 30 and he’s coming off a serious Achilles injury. For players who depend on speed, an Achilles tear is a brutal injury.

But Sherman is just so darn good, with such tremendous ball instincts, that “Richard Sherman but one step slower” would still have been the best cornerback Carolina has employed since Josh Norman. San Francisco knew that and immediately snapped him up Saturday before Sherman even visited anywhere else -- one more reason the 49ers are going to be a force to contend with this season.

So there will be no Sherman in Charlotte. But it remains true that the Panthers have got to get substantially better in the secondary in 2018 – I would like them to take a big-time safety somewhere in the first three rounds. And a veteran free-agent cornerback also seems like a necessity to join the Panthers’ crop of youngsters at the position.

JStew
Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart, the team’s all-time leading rusher, was a salary-cap casualty after the 2017 season. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Worley was expendable. So were Jonathan Stewart, Charles Johnson and Kurt Coleman – I was fine with Carolina parting ways with all of those guys. It was time.

But now it’s also time to find another player who can cover Smith in practice.

And if by some miracle, the Panthers could lure another good veteran corner at a reasonable price and also get a “yes” from 38-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers to play one more season, they could still have the makings of a spectacular defense.

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scott_fowler

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